Friday, 31 December 2010


There are three main ways to contact a modelling agency:

- By post
- By email
- In person

Many model agencies specify which method they usually prefer, but note that when you’re starting out and shopping for agencies, cold-calling is a no-no. The odds of being signed to any agency are slim, but bugging an agency with calls isn’t the way to even out those odds. The key to getting seen is to play the hiring game by their rules. If the model agency you’re after prefers emails, send an email. If another agency holds Open Days, turn up on that day ready to dazzle. Persistence is a valuable asset when starting out in modelling, but use it intelligently and channel that determination.

The first step in contacting any model agency is to prepare some photos. This doesn’t mean spending hundreds, even thousands, on a portfolio. All you need at this stage are a couple of recently-taken photos, one head-shot (head and shoulders, facing the camera) and a full body shot (head-to-toe, again facing the camera). Some agencies also like a profile shot to see how your face copes with different angles - it’s worthwhile checking their websites as they will list exactly what they want.

The key to getting good photos is to keep it simple. Your background should be well-lit and uncluttered – standing up against a plain wall is perfect. In terms of posing, resist the temptation to show off your killer impression of Anna Jagodzinska: for these photos, try to keep your face in a neutral expression – this means no pouting or smiling. It’s harder than it looks and it might be worth practising in the mirror beforehand to know how your face settles naturally and what looks best.

Think of the process as a chance to present yourself as someone who could handle lots of different looks. With this in mind, think about what you wear whilst taking these shots. A simple t-shirt or vest with jeans is ideal: you’re looking to market yourself as that perfect blank canvas, ready to be signed.

In terms of grooming, simplicity is the key: over-working your skin and hair is a rookie mistake. A busy agent doesn’t want to have to spend time scrutinising a photo of someone who’s covered in make-up to see what’s underneath. Keep the skin clean and fresh – no make-up is preferable but a little dab of concealer here and there is fine. With hair, swept back off the face to show your bone structure works well, and it will also demonstrate how light hits your face. These photos are very important, and the temptation to hide behind a comfort blanket of make-up and hair product is immense, but any good agent will be able to tell if you have potential from a couple of simple shots. Once you are armed with a set of photos you are happy with, here’s how you go about approaching an agency.

By post

Contacting an agency by post is fairly straightforward. Send your photos, along with a SAE and brief covering letter (outlining any previous experience and your vital statistics), to the model agency marking it for the attention of their ‘New Faces Division’ (every agency has one).
Your vital statistics will be the following:

- Height
- Chest / bust size
- Waist & hip measurements
- Age
- Hair and eye colour
- Dress and shoe size

When compiling your statistics, it is crucial to be honest. Not only is it good modelling karma, but adding an inch or two to your height, or shaving an imaginary inch off your waist would be a terrible mistake. If you write off to a modelling agency, stating that you are 5’9” when you’re in fact 5’6”, the agent will not thank you for wasting their time when they agree to meet you in person. If you hover between measurements, always state your exact size. There’s no shame in being 5’8” ½, but saying your waist is 24 inches when it’s closer to 25 can make a difference. You want to start your relationship with any agency off on the right foot, and being absolutely honest is the best way to start.

By email

Rapidly becoming the most common method of contacting a modelling agency, many agencies now have their own dedicated page for people who want to be considered for their New Faces Division. If your chosen agency has a page like this, you can directly upload your photos directly onto their website. Many of these agencies will also have an online form you can fill out, adding your contact info and vital statistics. Bear in mind that if the agency likes your photos, you could well be asked to meet with them in person: padding your CV or spinning your stats so they look more attractive to an agency doesn’t work in real life. Modelling is one of the few professions where starting with zero experience isn’t a problem. If you have potential to work in the modelling industry, someone will spot it.

In person

Some agencies have regular ‘open castings’, which anyone can attend and meet with agents to see if they have modelling potential. Usually, if this is an option, it will be listed on an agency’s website with dates and times.

Take this as gospel: if an agency has an Open Day and wants would-be models to attend the agency on Tuesday at 10am, turn up on Tuesday at 10am. Do not assume that the agents will have hours at their disposal to spend looking at new faces; many times the ‘Open Day’ is little more than a couple of hours at most, because time spent away from existing clients and models has the potential to lose the agency valuable income. Therefore, take their time seriously and be punctual. It’s also good training for when you become a model, as time-keeping is as important as having a decent runway walk. If you know you’re one of those people who’s at least 10 minutes late for everything, plan and organise your day accordingly. Adjust the time on your phone so it’s running 10 minutes fast if you have to, and work to that.

If you’re able to get to an open casting, present yourself the way you did during your photos. Think clean, modern and polished. Presenting yourself in this way not only flags up to an agent that you’re someone who’s done their research, but also someone who’s serious about committing to a career in modelling. Don’t forget to bring a copy of your original photos along with you as well, so the agent can see how your features translate on film.

Whatever way you decide to approach an agency, listen to any advice and constructive criticism that’s offered. If an agent suggests you may not be right for a sector of the industry because of your height, don’t automatically give up. If you’re aged 16 or under, it might be worth waiting 6 months before trying again, as you may grow that extra couple of inches which might make all the difference.

However, if you’re about as grown as you’re likely to get, and the issue is that your look won’t fit in a particular section of the industry, you may have to accept that you’re getting advice from someone who knows what they’re talking about. If you’re 5’5” and want to break into high-fashion where 5’9” is the norm, you will have to face the fact that the odds of succeeding are stacked against you. There are always exceptions, especially in high-fashion where tastes and trends change so quickly, but in order to break through those barriers you will have to be truly exceptional.

When you are contacting modelling agencies, accept that rejection is part of the whole experience, and be flexible and open-minded when it comes to looking out for opportunities. If an agent suggests you might be better off exploring another area of the industry, don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations on where to go next. They will know who will be best placed to help you in that search. Don’t give up too easily: it’s a big modelling world out there – if you’re not quite right for one agency, you could well be a perfect fit somewhere else.


Sunday, 19 December 2010


Born in Belarus in 1991, Tanya Dziahileva had an early start in modelling. Signed to an agency at the age of 14, her debut on the Spring / Summer 2006 catwalk saw her appear for Prada, Chloe, Chanel and Alexander McQueen.

Tanya’s launch into high-fashion continued with editorial work for British Vogue in February 2006 and a campaign for Hugo Boss featuring Tanya with Agyness Deyn. Both models were a telling choice for the brand; Deyn had just broken into the industry herself, with her unique street style and peroxide hair already making waves.

Aged 15, Tanya scored her first major solo campaign when she became the face of YSL, photographed by Juergen Teller. Normally such a high-profile booking would daunt even an experienced model, but Tanya handled the pressure and expectation like a seasoned professional.

2007 saw even greater success, with Tanya booking a campaign for Lanvin, photographed by the legendary Steven Meisel. If Tanya felt nerves, she didn’t show them – and within months she had also secured a fragrance contract with Nina Ricci and became the face of the Michael Kors brand, replacing Carmen Kass.

The model-switch represented a key change in fashion’s tastes. Michael Kors, a label synonymous with American luxury chic, Tanya was not the most obvious choice, but her hiring was a sign that fashion was already beginning to shed the idea of a certain type of model for a certain type of campaign.

Tanya’s first runway season of 2007 saw her walking in shows for Alberta Ferretti, Calvin Klein, Chloe, Dior, Givenchy, Marni, Oscar de la Renta, Proenza Schouler, Vera Wang and Zac Posen. Her booking sheet was a smattering of newly-formed design houses, such as Proenza Schouler and Zac Posen, plus more established labels like Oscar de la Renta and Givenchy.

But her breakout season came in September when she was hired for 71 shows. She was also picked to open the Versace show, and closed four shows including Phillip Lim, Celine and Valentino. Incredible as these achievements were for a model that was only 16 years old, 2008 would ultimately be Tanya’s blockbuster year. She landed two major campaigns; one with Anja Rubik and Maryna Linchuk for DSquared, and the second with global brand Ralph Lauren.
Tanya’s growing status as one to watch was cemented further when she booked over 70 shows for February 2008. The same month, she got her first cover, with Russian Vogue. The seal of approval from Vogue took Tanya’s career to the next level, getting her bookings in the couture shows in July. Standing at 5’ 11”, Tanya was height-perfect for couture and made appearances for Armani Prive, Dior and Valentino.

Couture’s reputation for being notoriously tricky to model is well-founded, but Tanya’s body of runway experience meant her debut in Paris was earned fair and square. Far from being elitist, haute couture is probably the fairest sector of the industry when it comes to hiring: ability wins over hype every time. Couture modelling requires a level of skill beyond ready-to-wear, with models being asked to effectively play a character – whether that’s giving Armani’s space-age glamour gowns a touch of gravity, or embodying John Galliano’s haughty equestrian fantasy. Haute Couture is a hybrid of fashion meets theatre, and Tanya disproves the myth that having a memorable face means you can’t be adaptable.

In August, Tanya did her first major editorial with U.S Vogue, shot by Steven Meisel, followed by a slot in Japanese Vogue and a feature in Russian Vogue where Tanya was dubbed a ‘top model’. Russian Vogue has a particularly good track record of recognising model talent: their decision to devote an entire issue to Natasha Poly launched her career into the stratosphere.
Tanya’s runway season in September was further proof that if a top model needs to be versatile, she met that requirement in spades. Opening and closing shows for Elie Saab and Yohji Yamamoto, Tanya’s ability to morph from one aesthetic to another couldn’t be clearer: it’s hard to think of two designers more different than Saab and Yamamoto. Saab’s reputation as a perfector of red-carpet glamour and Yamamoto’s clean, post-modern vision make them direct opposites, but Tanya’s keenly-honed runway skills meant she booked appearances for both.
September ’09 saw Tanya skip New York, London and Milan Fashion Weeks, concentrating solely on Paris with bookings for Alexander McQueen, Dior, Hussein Chalayan and Lanvin. But her experience of dealing with challenging catwalk was tested to its limit in March 2010 when she was asked to participate in a runway show, housing the final collection by Alexander McQueen, only a month after his sudden death. Part of a select group of seven models, the resulting show was subdued, but the work, stunning.

Tanya’s working relationship with the designer came full circle when she was asked to take part in an editorial for U.S Vogue. Called ‘Noble Farewell’, the layout showed Tanya and other models also featured in McQueen’s final runway show, wearing the collection and about to be packed away in crates, preserving McQueen’s work for all time.

It’s hard to fully gauge a designer’s worth during their lifetime, but the moving tribute paid by American Vogue was industry wide in its impact. Tanya’s final note of 2010 was another act of homage to McQueen. Fronting the September cover for Spanish Vogue, Tanya modelled one of Alexander’s now famous final looks. The heady baroque design was anchored by Tanya’s quiet and dignified gaze. No tricks required; this was modelling done so deftly that it looks like Tanya is doing nothing at all. A true sign of a top model is their ability to do more by doing less, and it’s a skill Tanya has mastered absolutely.

Her face has become one of the most recognised and recognisable in the industry, and even though her name is somewhat less familiar outside fashion circles, Tanya has become a supermodel by stealth. Her mix of quirky beauty and traditional supermodel traits sees Tanya competing – successfully – with newer models, even though her career is heading into its 6th year.

Tanya’s status as one of fashion’s most prized models has been hard-worn, with Tanya being catapulted into the spotlight when she was just 14. Acing an YSL campaign shoot at 15 years old is an extraordinary accomplishment. Her exhaustive body of work, featuring runway, editorials and campaigns with every major designer in the world, points to a model that thrives on hard work.

Tanya’s launch into the fashion world in 2005 came a decade after models Kristen McMenamy and Stella Tennant created a storm as faces that were ‘ugly / beautiful’. The mid-Nineties saw models appear whose look was unusual and challenging, a significant departure from the glamorous faces that populated the Eighties. Especially loved by European designers, such as Karl Lagerfeld and Jean Paul Gaultier, public opinion was strongly divided. Many didn’t get the appeal of such faces, others saw it as further proof that ‘high fashion’ had very little to do with ‘real life’. As vague as both these concepts are, the willingness of fashion to make beautiful clothes just that little bit ugly, transformed the industry. This was fashion taking the blinkers off and looking out on a wider definition of beauty. Poses became more angular, less defined: supermodels like Tyra Banks and Kate Moss began to appear in editorials where their bodies were slumped and their eyes cast away from the camera. The guiding principles were awkward rather than poised, quirky rather than sunny.

These new ideas on how to present high-fashion trickled down through the industry with modelling agencies finding themselves not automatically looking for ‘money girls’ – the kind who sell perfume by the barrel-load – but girls who could not only do, but embody, one word: editorial. But as editorial took hold, everyone wanted a piece of the new look. The quirky girls began getting hired not just for the high-fashion jobs, but for everything. It was nothing short of a revolution.

Tanya, along with Agyness Deyn and Coco Rocha, has become one of the first quirky girls to get the big-budget, big-name campaigns that were normally reserved for more conventional beauty. But Tanya isn’t considered a token choice: she has become one of the leading faces of a generation that accepts diversity as the norm. What’s considered on-trend alters constantly, but faces like Tanya’s have changed fashion’s mind about what beauty really is, and that idea refuses to budge.

Tanya’s portfolio boasts the expected avant-garde shoots and campaigns, but she is also a cover girl several times over. With seven Vogue covers to date, Tanya’s career is part of a much larger success story for modelling in general. With current hot-ticket Joan Smalls just announced as the new face of Estee Lauder for 2011, widening the terms of beauty has allowed models from every ethnic background to not only enter the industry, but to get their shot at those big-name bookings.

This revolution started on the runway, and this embrace of every kind of beauty came full circle during Jason Wu’s show last September. Featuring models from European, Asian and African-American backgrounds, it is incredible to think that ten years ago; this gathering would have been unthinkable, simply because it would have been impossible. Finally, their faces fit.


Sunday, 5 December 2010


Born 6th June 1993, Swedish-born Frida Gustavsson has, in the space of two years, become one of fashion’s most wanted.

Frida began modelling at the age of 15, moving to Japan the same year to pursue a career. Signing with IMG in 2009, Frida began her runway career in earnest, booking spots with Elie Saab and being picked to open the Valentino Couture show – an extraordinary honour for a newcomer.

Her connection with Valentino resurfaced in September, when Frida did her first editorial with Italian Vogue. Photographed in head-to-toe couture, Frida’s debut on the international fashion stage singled her out immediately as no run-of-the-mill model.

The impact of the editorial was confirmed when Frida secured ready-to-wear bookings with Carolina Herrera, Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta, Rodarte and Lanvin. Her super-stellar arrival, including closing spots for Just Cavalli and Gareth Pugh, put Frida firmly in the fashion spotlight. Both and subsequently featured Gustavsson as a Top 10 Newcomer.

January 2010 began with another couture season, with appearances for Valentino, plus Armani Prive, Elie Saab, Dior and Chanel, with additional editorial work for W and Italian Vogue. But Frida’s next RTW season would prove to be a monster hit.

Opening shows for Sophia Kokosalaki and Costume National, Frida’s mega season featured over 70 appearances ranging from Phillip Lim, Burberry and Chanel to Louis Vuitton, Rag & Bone, Thakoon and Versace.

Frida was in every show of note in a season filled with hit after hit, becoming an indispensable feature of Fashion Week, from Burberry’s aviator chic to Louis Vuitton’s glamorous retake on Fifties style. Frida’s astonishing run of success continued to grow, with her first international cover in May. Appearing for German Vogue and shot by Greg Kadel, the end result was both glamorous and enigmatic. With half her face obscured, Frida’s performance was pure modern retro. Referencing models from the 1940’s and 50’s, the cover could almost be from the archives, but it managed to be both classically appealing and absolutely contemporary. It’s hard to handle retro shoots as the aim is to evoke vintage, rather than directly copy it, but the tone struck by Gustavsson and Kadel was note-perfect.

Frida also made her debut in American Vogue in May, and in July, covered couture season, walking for Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier, Armani Prive and, again, Valentino. Gustavsson’s reliability on the runway had eventually translated into some lucrative campaign work, with Frida impressively landing a spot as the face of Marc Jacobs’s fragrance, Daisy.

Her next bookings for runway (Spring / Summer 2011), included prestigious opening spots for Anna Sui, Marc by Marc Jacobs and Lanvin. Also scoring a finale spot with new designer Prabal Gurung, Frida’s bookings included appearances for every major design house. Frida rounded out the year with editorials for French, American and British Vogue, and as couture season begins again in January, Gustavsson’s career trajectory is set to transform this fashion favourite into a force to be reckoned with.

The glory may be heaped on the campaign girls, but success in runway should never be underestimated. Frida’s success hasn’t rested on face-time with the public. It’s unlikely that anyone outside the fashion world (or not an avid follower), would be able to identify her with any degree of success. But fashion’s multi-discipline arena allows to models to find and develop their own strengths. While undoubtedly talented at editorial, and with cover and campaign work beginning to rack up, Frida’s true strength has been to master the very core of modelling: runway.

It is easy to forget, but runway remains for designers the most important aspect of their career. Twice a year designers submit their ready-to-wear collections to be scrutinised by the fashion world. Runway, more than any campaign, is a calling-card, telling us where the designer wants to take their vision not just now or for the next six months; it is a projection of their game plan; the designer they ultimately want to become.

A ‘good’ collection becomes part of the fashion experience, drip-feeding hem lengths and colour combinations down to the high-street, but a ‘great’ collection forms its own style language. Prada made us fall in love with the humble bowling bag; Karl Lagerfeld’s modernising of the Chanel tweed jacket made it a wardrobe essential and Marc Jacobs gave grunge a glamour makeover, transforming it into the urban uniform worn across the world.

A runway collection that has true impact does more than raise a designer’s profile: getting it right – and that includes hiring the best models – can make the difference between a designer being moderately successful and becoming a legend. When your name and your label become interchangeable, you’re definitely doing something right.

Frida is part of a select group of models that hold a unique influence. Fashion may love star power, but it loves consistency more. Frida’s face may not have the immediacy of a Lindsey Wixson or a Jessica Stam, but she – and models like her – form the backbone of the fashion business.

Frida’s runway CV features some of the most hotly-tipped talents to emerge in a decade. Designers like Prabal Gurung and Mary Katrantzou hire Frida because she is an established name that comes without the baggage normally associated with a star turn. She can fully commit to any vision, any sartorial point of view, and make it believable. For a new designer, wanting to make their mark, it’s an easy sell.

Frida’s power as a top runway model is made even clearer when it comes to couture. Standing at just over 5’9”, Gustavsson is nearly two inches shorter than the industry standard for couture, where models normally peak at 5’11”.

It is highly unusual for a model under 5’10” to get any couture bookings, simply because the often complex and dramatic designs demand height. The fact that Frida routinely appears on some of the best couture runways in the world, points to her ability to understand high-fashion. Models at this level aren’t just glorified clothes-hangers; they’re interpreters.

Translating a designer’s vision into something beautiful and, crucially, covetable is a task that falls to the model who is required to take something that could in the wrong hands become costume, and instead take it to a level where clothes become poetry. Runway modelling, at its best, works when the model truly knows and appreciates high-fashion.

Her appearance in the final collection by Alexander McQueen earlier this year, shows how much a part of the community she is; the collection was left incomplete by McQueen’s death in February, with only 16 completed looks to showcase, only 7 models were required. Frida was selected to form part of this group, along with Iris Strubegger, Tanya Dziahileva, Polina Kasina and Karlie Kloss.

With all eyes on this final tribute to the designer, Frida was part of a history-making moment, and in fashion, those tend to be few and far between. When everything is focused on the here and now, those rare moments, where fashion steps back and takes a breath, leave a mark that is indelible.

Girls like Frida are the life-blood of high fashion. Strip away the hype and the glamour, and what’s left is a core group of models who are there because they respect high-fashion. Frida has created a space for herself in the fashion world by virtue of her genuine love for fashion, because fashion evolves not just on ideas but relationships too. A model that gets it, the lure of designer fashion, not as a status symbol, but for its own intrinsic worth, is a model who will always be in favour. It’s as simple as that.